In which Emily is very much in-demand

Khotsong!

Since writing last, my work pace has picked up quite a bit! In July my counterpart and I attended a pitso, which is the equivalent of a town meeting that is called by the chief. At this pitso my counterpart introduced me to the village and announced that I would be happy to work on any community project as an advisor. This was a great experience as now most people in my village know why I am there, know that I’m not an English teacher, and best of all know my name and can stop calling me Ausi Lekhooa (White Girl). The chief of my village speaks zero English but has said some very kind things to me through translators, basically that he appreciates my presence and commitment to the village. The result of this pitso has been a parade of groups of villagers dropping by my place and requesting help with a variety of projects. I am endeavoring to become an expert in everything from beekeeping to mushroom-growing to selling handicrafts in order to be of use. It’s exciting to be so popular in my village and have work to do; now the challenge is prioritizing and setting realistic expectations.

In other news, last week PC Lesotho had an All-Volunteer Conference in which all 80+ PCVs came together, attended a development panel, had group discussions, and, most importantly, put on a talent show. Here’s me and The Band performing that crowd-favorite, “Wagon Wheel”:

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I’ve started working with a local org that offers orphans and their care-givers sewing training. One of the crafts they make are these adorable stuffed animal dogs out of traditional seshoeshoe fabric. The sales keep the training program in business and help the care-givers support their families. My counterpart calls them “puppies”. Here is one of the puppies I sold at All-Vol, sporting another volunteer’s IGA handicraft product, seshoeshoe bowtie, or bowshoeshoe:

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Bowshoeshoe are available on Etsy here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/BowShoeshoe. If you are interested in ordering a puppy, leave a comment below!

Here you can see me in the audience of a skills-sharing session about doing youth camps with very limited resources:

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Camps on life skills and gender equality are a popular PC project, but often require sponsorship by businesses or grant money in order to pay for food, chaperones, and other materials, making it a major endeavor for the PCV and counterpart. Here, PCV Superstar Beth shared her experience putting on a day camp in her village with zero sponsorship/outside financial support.

Lastly, here is a picture of the motley crew of PCVs that came together to celebrate American Independence Day, or 4th of Ju-braai, as I dubbed it (braai is South African BBQ):

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Explaining Independence Day to Basotho is fun because Lesotho was also a British colony for ~75 years. We had a wonderfully multi-cultural evening that included potluck food, beer pong, and explaining Cards Against Humanity to Basotho. Looking forward to Lesotho Independence Day on October 4th!

One more thing: I am working on a project with PC Lesotho’s Diversity Committee to make lesson plans about diversity in the US. We are collecting photos and information about a range of people. The lesson is going to show students different pictures of people, let them make assumptions, and then show them how diverse each person is. The idea is to break some stereotypes about Americans. We won’t use all the profiles, but are trying to get as much diversity as possible. If you can help or get someone else you know to help, I would really appreciate it!

I need a picture (of just you) and the answers to the following (feel free to leave any of them blank):

Name:
Age:
Gender:
Hometown:
Ethnicity:
Job:
Education:
Marriage Status:
Children:
Religion:
Favorite musical artist/song:
Favorite sport:
Favorite food (and description, if necessary):
Fun fact:

Email me your answers and photo if you’d like to participate or have any questions/suggestions: eabrown204@gmail.com.

That’s most of what I’ve been up to in the past month and a half. That, and the grant for the chicken coop project I mentioned last time. The next few weeks hold another training, this one in Grassroots Soccer, vacation to the McGregor Poetry Festival near Cape Town, and hopefully getting this grant submitted and approved. Thanks for reading!

In which Emily gets back in the game

It’s official! I have been re-sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Lesotho. My flight back over was a best possible scenario in that all the seats in my row were empty so I even got to LAY DOWN and sleep (yes!). After arriving I was picked up and brought to the PC office in Maseru where I checked in with various PC staff, then proceeded to the guesthouse to sleep off some jet lag. The next day PC drove me down to my site for a triumphant return. My room was just as I left it, but clean (my counterpart snuck in the day before to sweep, dust, and wax the floor. She’s a saint.). Unfortunately one of my four host-nuns was transferred to a different convent in my absence, but I found the other three as warmly welcoming as ever. After saying hi to them I trotted down to the school to find my counterpart. I found her in the library, where we had a brief hug-fest and exclaimed over and over how happy we were to see each other.

About a week and a half in our Country Director Wendy stopped by my camp town to officially swear me back in. Since my medical separation meant I closed my service (or COS-ed), this is technically a brand new term of service. A few PCVs from nearby came to witness this inauspicious occasion in a heartwarming show of support. I did repeat one sentence incorrectly, but hey so did Obama. Swearing in is a little strange because the oath we take is the same oath used for every government position, from a Senator to a soldier. So there isn’t anything about peace, only about protecting the Constitution from “all enemies, foreign and domestic”. In any case, I’ve said it, I’ve signed it, and now I’m officially back.

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This week my counterpart and I attended a PC workshop about designing and implementing a project. We are looking forward to realizing the project we first decided on when I arrived last year, which is a poultry project to support the orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) that attend the primary school at my site. My training group completed this workshop in February, so I went with a group of Education volunteers that swore in shortly after I left. It was an opportunity to get to know the PCVs in that group, and it turns out I’ve got some new great new neighbors to hang out with!

Returning to Lesotho feels wonderful. It’s strange that returning home to America felt so unsettling and unfair, whereas returning to this incredibly foreign land felt like I was righting a wrong in the universe. As before, day-to-day things move slowly as far as work goes, but overall my work feels cut out for me. Also as before, there are some amazing people in this country, both Basotho and American, and I’m looking forward to spending the next eighteen months working with them.

In which Emily gets cleared for lift-off

Greetings concerned citizens!

Thanks for tuning back in for the next chapter in the bizarre story of my life. When we last left it, I had been medically separated, looking at five more months stateside in order to finish my course of medication. Medical clearance took longer than expected (however this delay itself was expected, so there you go) and now, after one month of Medevac and six months of Medically Separated, RPCV civilian life, I have been cleared, reinstated, and am on my way back to the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. I leave on Tuesday morning for two days of travel, after which I will have to swear-in, then head back to the ranch at my old site.

I am overjoyed that my host organization is willing to take me back, that I am able to resume my service, and that all this waiting around will now pay off. Multiple people have expressed surprise that I am still going back, after so much time has passed. The things is, the longer the wait got, the more urgent it was that I do go back. Otherwise, the five months I spent of preparation in country, plus the subsequent seven months of healing/waiting around would have been for nothing. Maybe not exactly nothing, but far short of the goals I set for my PC service. Although I am technically an official RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer), it feels fraudulent to call myself one when my time at site totaled to a mere handful of weeks and zero projects completed. In short, the past year is meaningful only if included in a longer narrative in which I return and build on the foundation made last year.

If I wasn’t going to return to Lesotho after being Med-Sepped, I would have made different moves from the get-go in December, tossing in the veritable towel and moving on. I have post-Peace Corps goals, namely law school, that will now themselves be delayed with this delay in my PC service. But I went in to PC with more than an inkling to do good. I did and do hold the conviction that serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer is a foundation that I will build the rest of my career on. It is a life-long dream, and, honestly, I am a very stubborn person. There was no question in my mind that I would reinstate in December, and there has been no question in my mind since.

That is not to say that it has been easy. It is difficult to convey how frustrating it has been, trying to plan my life when I had no inkling of how much time I would have left until my return to Lesotho. That, plus there was zero guidance from any quarter. I scoured the internet looking for an RPCV with a story like mine. None presented themselves. The doctors I saw thought I was in America on vacation when I saw them in November, and when I went for follow-ups in the spring they thought that I had gone back to Lesotho in the meantime. PC HQ was surprised when I told them I had gotten a job during my separation. I wouldn’t hear from the Office of Medical Services for weeks at a time, then they would send me instructions for tasks I had already completed. I struggled to get hired with a sketchy resume and vague plans for the future. I watched as my training group has gone through the steps of service, achievements and challenges alike, vacations, trainings, accomplishments of all kinds, while I tread water in my parent’s basement. It’s very possible that the most difficult part of my service will be the months I spent not in service.

I consider myself lucky, though. When I was sick, I had a wonderful home to return to, and health insurance to pay for the care I needed. In the end, I was medically cleared. I am beyond excited to return and get going with the team at my host org. And I have a new appreciation for how unpredictable life is, how important it is to take opportunities when they are presented, and what a privilege it is to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. However frustrating it has been working within the bureaucracy of Peace Corps, they offer the chance to have a truly unique and beneficial perspective on the world.

That’s all I’ll bombard you with for now. Next time I write, I’ll be in Africa!

In which Emily gets medevaced

Medevac is short for Medical Evacuation. I am currently on medevac due to bilateral pulmonary emboli. For those of you who aren’t doctors, a CT-scan found a couple of blood clots in my lungs. After getting pneumonia twice in a row the astute Peace Corps Medical Officers who act as our in-service doctors ordered a scan of my lungs to see what was up. Lo, blood clots. After a strange week of being hospitalized in Bloemfontein, then Maseru, I was informed that pulmonary embolism requires medevac and that I would be taking an unexpected journey back home. After returning to site for a few days to pack up my things (and attend a delightful Halloween soiree with some PCVs), I hopped on a 17-hour flight direct from Joburg to Atlanta, then on home to La Guardia. Since I’m from an area with sufficiently close medical care, PC allowed me to medevac to my “home of record” in good ol’ Essex, CT. The past few weeks have been spent visiting a variety of specialists to understand why exactly I got these blood clots, as a 23-year old non-smoker with no family history of heart disease or blood disorders. The American doctors came to the same conclusion that the Bloem doctor did, which is that I am more sensitive to estrogen than most women, so the combination of taking birth control pills with the long flight over to Lesotho in June caused clots to form in my legs which over time floated into my lungs, subsequently making them vulnerable to infection like pneumonia. What is strange is that being in Lesotho really had nothing to do with my illness, it was just a converging of circumstances that ended in me being sent home.

The only symptoms I experienced other than a slight decrease in lung capacity were from the bouts of pneumonia, so I was not in any pain or discomfort throughout the hospitalizations or medevac.  The treatment is to a) permanently avoid clotting risk-factors like smoking, taking any form of hormones, or sitting down for extended car trips or plane rides (inconvenient but simple enough) and b) after having a blood clot one has to take blood thinning medication (anticoagulants) for an extended period of time in order to assure that it does not happen again. I have been prescribed a fairly new drug that as I understand is much easier to be on than the traditional stuff and will be taking it for a total of six months. So what next? The kicker is that convenient as this new drug is, and healthy as I feel, PC will not be able to clear me to return until I am off the blood thinner. Blood thinners do just what the name says, so I get to wear a cool Medic-Alert bracelet because I bleed/bruise more easily than I normally would. This means that if I get in a car accident, or some similar scenario, I will bleed quicker than normal and would need emergency care, again, quicker than normal. Unfortunately Lesotho does not have the emergency-response services that I would need as a person on anticoagulants. Medevac lasts maximum 45 days, so in a week and a half I will be Medically Separated. Medical Separation is a form of Early Termination, which in PC-speak means that my service will be ended early. Fortunately my medical status will change in less than a year which is within the time limit to ‘reinstate,’ meaning I can pick up where I left off in Lesotho without reapplying or going through training again. I will have to start my two years of service over, but I am fortunate in that I will most likely get to return to the same site and get going on the projects that my counterpart and I had only just started to work on when I left. If you’re like my mother and wondering a) am I mad at the Peace Corps? b) am I mad at birth control pills? c) am I really going back? d) am I a crazy person? then I can tell you that a) No, I understand the reason for my separation and agree that it would be risky, frustrating as it might be b) No, birth control pills are a wonderful thing and improve the quality of many lives for a variety of reasons, I am just unlucky in my body chemistry in this instance c) Yes, yes, a hundred times yes. If I’ve learned anything from my five months it’s been that Peace Corps is exactly what I’m supposed to do at this stage in my life, and I am not going to let this random hiccup take away what still is an amazing opportunity for me, and d) Ugh probably.

For now I’m looking for jobs, hoping to find something meaningful, productive, and income-earning to do during the next ~5 months. I probably won’t be blogging again until I’m at least on my way back to Lesotho (unless I get a demand of people hankering to hear about my job-search/unemployed life style), probably early May-ish. Thanks for reading thus far, and maybe I’ll see you around!

In which Emily dips out for a few weeks

I’ll admit I’ve been putting off updating because, well, so much has happened and I wasn’t quite sure where to start. We last left it at me settling in, slowly figuring out how to live and work at my new home in Mohale’s Hoek. About two weeks in, I started feeling poorly and went to see the PC doctor in Maseru. I was diagnosed with a lung infection and started taking antibiotics which started helping immediately. While I was in Maseru, there was a sort of-coup-type series of events described well here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/31/world/africa/lesotho-military-moves-on-police.html?_r=0. That Wednesday Peace Corps decided it would be best for all volunteers to wait for the situation to stabilize in South Africa. They brought us all to a really nice hotel where we experienced a sort of vacation-cum-imprisonment that we nick-named ‘consolication’ (consolidation being the technical lingo for our security status and vacation being the best way to describe how we spent our days mostly within the confines of the hotel). I was in recovery from my lung infection for most of it, but at least I got to recover in style. Finally it was determined that while the situation was not getting completely resolved, it was also not getting worse. That combined with the fact that in the villages where we live and serve no one is getting politically rambunctious and many aren’t even aware of the events that pretty much only effect Maseru meant we were allowed to triumphantly return to our sites. After assuring my host-nuns that I was happy to be back, that I was no longer sick, and that it is not typical for me to up and leave for weeks at a time with no notice, I set about re-settling-in.

Here is a recent Fox News article about the political situation as it stands now: http://www.myfoxla.com/story/26765597/lesotho-plans-elections-but-mood-is-unsettled

In which Emily does a lot of smiling and waving

Khotso!

This past Thursday marked my one-week anniversary at my site. Just like they say, there are lots of ups and downs. Ups include the first baby steps on a chicken-coop building project for my school and generally making my house a home. Downs include missing the other volunteers from my group, figuring out how to charge my phone, trying to get my desk in order, and spending a lot of time waiting around for my counterpart in my room. My room is right next to the schoolyard, so whenever I venture out I get a lot of stares and a few very enthusiastic “Hellohowareyooo?”s from the children running around. Next week I start teaching Life Skills to standards 5-7. Next time hope to report on how I hold up in front of a classroom!

 

In which Emily arrives in Lesotho

Here we go – my first blog post about Peace Corps! Apologies to anyone who has been checking for an update before now. Internet access is very limited here and I decided to stow away my laptop in the PC safe for most of training. But in any case, I will try to sum up the past 10 weeks succinctly and accurately. 

June 5 we arrived at the Maseru airport, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after 16 hours of flight-time. I’ve been staying with a host family consisting of a married couple, their 17-year-old daughter, and their 5-year-old granddaughter, learning Basotho ways and cultural norms, taking language classes, and spending a lot of time looking at mountains. Everywhere you look here is a postcard-worthy view of mountains and valleys. Every person you meet greets you, even if you don’t know them and wants to know where you’ve come from, where you live, what your name is, and where you’re going. Every animal is skin-and-bones and scared to let you touch it because little kids routinely throw rocks at dogs, donkeys, and cows alike. And every meal includes papa, the staple crop which basically is mashed potatoes made from corn.

Tomorrow we swear in, meaning I’ll be a full-fledged volunteer and not a mere trainee. There will be a ceremony that will be broadcast on Lesotho TV (although hardly anyone here has TV so I don’t know who will be watching) at which I have been asked to lead the volunteers in singing the Lesotho and American national anthems, so we’ll see how that goes.

A note about the post title: I’m currently reading Don Quixote, a book which at its essence is about a well-meaning individual who blunders through encounters with others in attempts to render them assistance. Despite the fact that Don Quixote is actually completely delusional, I often identify with him in my current situation. So I’ve decided to model my blog post titles after Cervantes’s inventive chapter titles. Enjoy!